Saturday, June 30, 2007


Northern summer sun
Warms fragrant green cottonwoods
Soft snow covers ground

Friday, June 29, 2007

USA v. Thomas Anderson Day 5 (only day 2 for me)

U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska
Court Calendar for Friday, June 29, 2007
Current as of 06/29/20 at 8:00 PM

9:00 AM 3:06-CR-00099-JWS Judge Sedwick Anchorage Courtroom 3

[For those who aren't going to read all this - most of you I imagine - I'll just slip in what I found most interesting today. When Prewitt was being cross examined and he denied that doing this work for the government was in exchange for dropping other charges (he claimed there was nothing out there that could stick), Stockler (Anderson's attorney) asked, "How many other cases are you volunteering to assist? The Prosecutor objected, but the judge allowed it, and Stockler told him not to reveal any names. Prewitt said, six or seven. Let's see, we know of four indicted legislators, that leaves two or three more cases. Ben Stevens? John Cowdery? Who might seven be?]

I got there just after the afternoon session began. Prewitt was still on the witness stand, the Prosecutor was still showing tapes and transcripts, and asking Prewitt to interpret what was said in the tapes. At one point the judge addressed the government's attorney as Mr. Marsh, so my assumption yesterday that Bottini was the attorney was wrong. I'm guessing Mr. Bottini was the older (Mr. Marsh appears to be in his mid 30s or less) gentleman sitting at the government table. There were around 20-30 people in the observer section of the court this afternoon.

From what I could tell, the prosecutor was trying to establish

1. Anderson's eagerness to help Prewitt and Cornell with whatever they needed in the legislator. There's video tape of Rep. McQuire (now Anderson's wife) explaining how she to pressed Commissioner of Health and Social Services Joel Gilbertson to split the Certificate of Need process for imaging services from the process for Juvenile facilities (I think that was it) because they'd been lumped together and the whole process was being delayed because of problems in the imaging situation, not the juvenile facilities situation. Anderson also whispered to Prewitt while McQuire was talking to someone else that he hadn't told her about their arrangement. Of course, one could ask why he wouldn't tell her if he thought it was all on the up and up. And if he had told her, might she have stopped him? We'll never know.

Anderson was also asked to assist in getting a bill to change the requirement that the State Troopers had to do the transporting of prisoners, because they didn't want to and had 'subcontracted' that to Corrections who also didn't want to. In Anchorage Corrections subcontracted transport of Municipal Prisoners to the Anchorage Police Department, who also didn't want to do it. So Bobrick after talking to Mayor Begich came up with the idea to start a company to transport prisoners, but that would need legislation to allow the Troopers to subcontract that task. And Tom agreed to make that happen. No word about whether he did.

2. Anderson's need for additional money from Prewitt (He asked for and got another $2000 in addition to the money that was being passed on through Bobrick's Pacific Communications (I think that was the final name) Company. We saw photocopies of two checks he handed to Anderson, one directly to Anderson, the other to Bobrick. There was a long discussion that seemed to be initiated by Tom, that if he got money from a company that didn't have a lobbyist and it was less than $5000 he wouldn't have to report to to the Alaska Public Offices Commission. So he wanted to be sure this money came from a subsidiary of Cornell that didn't have a lobbyist. Prewitt, Cornell's lobbyist offered to write a personal check, Anderson said no, and Prewitt gave him the $2000 cashier's check. The video showed Anderson, hands out in front of him at the restaurant table making two mock bows to Prewitt after he gave him the check and saying, "I love it." At another point, Anderson says something like, I have no trouble raising campaign money, but what I really need is a job.

Paul Stockler, Anderson's attorney, was getting antsy, and after the jury left for the afternoon 15 minute break he addressed the judge about the schedule and when he would get to start cross examining Prewitt. He clearly didn't want the jury going home for the weekend without ever hearing anything from the other side. He was offered an hour today. His manner was much more aggressive than Marsh's, who is very deferential, but articulate. However, Marsh was clearly losing focus a bit this afternoon - having to go back to cover a tape or document he'd skipped over, and at one point someone walked into the courtroom and he turned to look over his shoulder to see who had come in. Stockler even addressed the judge as "Judge" at one point. I don't spend much time in courtrooms, but Marsh's "Your Honors" sound a lot more respectful to me.

When Stockler finally did get to start his cross examination of Prewitt at 3:45pm, he lit right into him and then he began to try to show Anderson's behavior in a more positive light. First he hit Prewitt with a series of incidents that he suggested he could have gone to prison for.

1. A $30,000 loan Prewitt, while Commissioner of Corrections, got from Allvest another firm that subcontracted with the Department of Corrections (I think that's what he said.) Prewitt said he got the loan and paid it back. Stockler: Is there anything in writing? Isn't it true it was a bribe? No. How did you pay it back? I worked for Allvest for four months - $7500 per month. Did you pay taxes on the $30,000? No, it was a loan. But you say you worked for it. No, I was paying him back. So, all of us could avoid paying income taxes by having our employer loan us our pay before, and then we'd repay it by working and not have to pay taxes?

2. Something about getting a job for a Mr. [DonStahlworthy (sp?) Stolworthy] who in 2004 was Deputy Commissioner of Corrections. Prewitt promised him a job when STahlworthy[Stolworthy] was fired.
I couldn't follow the specific details here. It was getting late and it appeared Stockler wanted to leave the jury with some questions about Prewitt before the weekend. [See Sunday, July 1 post post.
for update on Stolworthy.

3. Funneling $30,000 in campaign contributions from Cornell, a Houston based company,
to Alaskan legislative candidates who were friendly to private prisons. This was illegal because there was a limit on how much money candidates could get from contributors from Outside (of Alaska), so he would give it to them as an Alaskan.

4. Then raised questions about what deal he made with the Government so that he was now in the witness stand instead of the defendant's seat. Prewitt said that after working closely with the FBI for a month, and consulting with his attorney, he realized that he wasn't going to be subject to prosecution because of statute of limitations issues and I'm not sure why about the funneling contributions. And that he had volunteered to work for the government; he didn't have to. And it has been at great cost to his reputation and future employment to have all this publicly aired. Stockler kept challenging his claim there was no deal and said he needn't have volunteered and he would have spared himself all the humiliation.

5. An interesting bit of information emerged when he was asked how many other investigations was he cooperating on. Stockler told him not to mention any names. Marsh objected, but the judge allowed it. After a pause, Prewitt said, six or seven.

6. Established Prewitt was making $150,000 a year from Cornell to lobby, then asked whether Prewitt told Cornell he was working for the government. No. You didn't let them know you were in criminal trouble? I wasn't. You mean when the FBI knocked on your door, you didn't think you were in trouble? I don't think this was a good line of questioning since Stockler's client also had the FBI knocking at his door. If he's suggesting the FBI doesn't knock until they have something, then he could be hurting his own client. He also asked if Prewitt asked the government to pay him. He said yes, but they wouldn't.

Then Stockler focused on changing the jury's image of Anderson.

1. He wanted to show that Anderson was friendly and eager to please, not because Prewitt was paying him, but because that's his natural style. He asked Prewitt questions about an early meeting with Anderson before they knew each other at all, where Anderson called him FP (suggesting this was very familiar even though they didn't know each other well) and offered him assistance. And he didn't do that for money, but because he was that kind of guy and the issues were consistent with his principles. He didn't know Prewitt, hadn't gotten campaign contributions from him, and hadn't asked him for anything. Even though Bobrick had raised the notion of a campaign contribution, and Prewitt had said something like Tom shouldn't raise that now (because it is illegal for legislators to solicit campaign funding during the legislative session), Tom never asked you for a campaign contribution? Again, I don't think this was a good way to go, since Tom had earlier said that he didn't need campaign money, he needed a job. Prewitt's response was, that while he hadn't done anything for Tom, Bobrick, who was also a Cornell lobbyist, had done stuff for Tom and he was the one that introduced them here. (They'd had one prior meeting where Tom couldn't help Prewitt because he was supported by the prison employee's union that was opposed to private prisons. But when they split from the larger union, it was no longer a problem for him.)

2. He tried to portray the problem as Prewitt entrapping (he never used that term)Anderson. You and Bobrick concocted the sham company to funnel the money, Tom didn't. And he kept asking you to confirm that this money wasn't being paid him to do the legislative work. Stockler to Prewitt, "You could have said, Yes, the money is for you to fix my problems, and then Tom would have refused, and you wouldn't have had to humiliate yourself with all the publicity of this trial." The gist was, Tom was pushed into this by these older, more experienced mentors, at least one of whom is going to go scott free. But earlier they had established that Tom had a masters degree and law degree. In my opinion, a legislator should know better than asking lobbyists for legal advice.

And then it was 4:38 on the courtroom digital clock. The jury seemed much more interested in what was going on than they had been while the government painstakingly went through all the hard to hear and see tapes and transcripts.

Stockler asked for all of Monday to cross examine Prewitt. And then the Prosecutor will bring Bobrick to the witness stand.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

USA v. Thomas Anderson

9:00 AM 3:06-CR-00099-JWS Judge Sedwick Anchorage Courtroom 3

Disclosure First: Tom was a student of mine a while ago. I don't remember when I talked to him last. However, I have been disturbed by this case since the beginning. I haven't blogged about this, in part, because I can't talk about anything I learned about Tom through our student/teacher relationship which is the only relationship I've had with him. I decided I should go to court and hear the evidence for myself. What I say here is strictly reporting what I saw in court, stuff anyone who went could have seen.

First, walking up to the court building, I saw someone being interviewed. I found out in court it was Tom Anderson's attorney, Paul Stockler. Inside, security took my camera, along with everyone's cell phones, until I got out. The courtroom had seating for about 120. I got there after the lunch recess and there were about 40 people in the audience, including a German couple whose Anchorage friend brought them. It was down to about 30 when the court was adjourned at 4:30.

The Situation. The Prosecutor Joe Bottini (I assume, since I got there after introductions, but I'm going by today's ADN story on yesterday's opening statements) [correction: it was Nicholas Marsh] spent the afternoon presenting audio and (one) video tapes. On the screen on the wall were the transcripts of what was being said, a yellow highlight following along, sort of a courtroom karaoke. Most were hard to understand and read along. One juror said it was too hard to hear. The judge reminded the jury several times that the actual audio, not the transcript, was the evidence.
On the witness stand was Frank Prewitt, former Corrections Commissioner who became a lobbyist for Cornell Companies, a Houston based private prison corporation. A bit of tape would be played. Then the Prosecutor would ask Prewitt what it meant. Prewitt was an articulate witness explaining it clearly. A couple of times Stockler objected that Prewitt couldn't know what Tom Anderson or Bill Bobrick (a key person on the tape) meant. The judge agreed he could say what he understood it to mean.

The People on the Tape:
1. Prewitt was, according to the ADN story, already being investigated. He was the man with the wire. He was a lobbyist for Cornell.
2. Bill Bobrick was the main lobbyist working with the Anchorage Assembly, a good friend apparently of the Mayor, and generally a supporter of liberal politicians. He was also portrayed today as a trusted mentor and adviser to Tom Anderson.
3. Tom Anderson was a Republican legislator, in his early 40s (The other two 15-25 years older I'd guess.) As it came out in today's tapes and Prewitt's comments, he was in financial trouble, needing $2000-2500 per month just for child support.

The Line of Argument

1. Cornell Companies needed four things:
A. A certificate of need for a new prison
B. A feasibility study saying they could provide comparable prison 'service' at less cost than the State of Alaska.
C. A positive review of the Whittier Procurement (Something - can't read my notes) for a joint venture with Cornell to build the prison. Apparently some legislators had questions about the process.
D. Get the private prison money that goes to the Department of Corrections back into its own BRU. Prewitt explained that a BRU is a Budget Review Unit. Money can be moved around within a BRU by a department, but not from one BRU to another. Private prison money had been in a separate BRU, but Gov. Murkowski had changed that and Corrections then had moved money originally allocated to private prisons to other accounts. They wanted the separate BRU again so private prison funds would stay for private prison stuff and couldn't be switched to other Corrections Department needs.

2. Bobrick was proposing to Prewitt on the tape, that Tom Anderson would be a good candidate for helping get Cornell's needs met.
A. He was a legislator, in the majority party, and could get appointed to the key committees relevant to the Cornell's needs.
B. He needed money.
[Today the prosecutor was trying to build the case against Anderson and we only heard from Prewitt. What was Bobrick's motive? He wasn't going to get any money out of this based on today's testimony - though the newspapers said a while ago that he kept a chunk of the payments for himself. The evidence today suggested that this was a way for him to get Tom badly needed funds, and that Tom was a rising star and in the future he would remember who helped him.]
C. Tom was 'a closer' and would finish what he started, he could be counted on.

The Scheme: Bobrick was setting up a quarterly electronic public policy newsletter that Tom among others (Brian Rogers was mentioned) would write for. It would be bi-partisan and they would sell advertising. Cornell would buy $24,000 worth of banner ads. Prewitt, on the tape, made it clear to Bobrick that Cornell didn't advertise because they got contracts from government. Thus they had no reason to spend money on advertisements. They didn't care about the newsletter, they cared about Tom helping them in the legislature. The prosecutor asked several times - did Bobrick think this was a real venture? And the answer was, "Yes, he thought he could make money off it." But from today's testimony it seemed clear that while they might set up a newsletter, the real purpose was to channel money from Cornell to Anderson. It would go to the Newsletter company (that had different names throughout the testimony) and the company would pay Anderson. No one mentioned yet whether there eventually was such an electronic journal, and if there was, whether Tom wrote any articles. The question about whether they thought there would be a real journal might be leading up to the fact that there was no such journal in the end and which would make the payments seem even shadier. But I'm speculating now.

Anderson's Rationale On the video tape of the breakfast at the Whale's Tail at the Captain Cook Hotel - all you could see were Tom's hands - Tom was saying something like, I don't see any problem here because I'm doing these things because they are the right things to do, not because of the contract. He gave an example of working against a tax on RV Rentals. I didn't say, I'm against this because my mom rents RVs (which she did), but because I had the facts and the figures to show it was a bad idea.

Many politicians have argued that the money they get in campaign donations isn't a bribe. People donate because they want to support someone who believes the same things they believe. And there is validity to that argument. The problem here, at least with the testimony given so far, is that money is passing hands, and there are some specific deliverables - the four items listed above at (1). And the creation of a company so the money couldn't be easily traced. And no one was planning to tell anyone else that Anderson was getting paid by Cornell. I can imagine that the promise of an answer to his financial problems helped Tom rationalize that he was doing nothing wrong. Of course, that is the whole point of conflict of interest - our perceptions get colored by the conflict. Which is why telling others allows less biased minds to weigh in on the matter.

That covers the key points I got in court this afternoon. There was one more interesting tidbit that is totally irrelevant to the case. When Bobrick and Prewitt were at breakfast without Tom as part of the banter, Bobrick said about Ben Stevens (US Senator Ted Stevens' son), "He's got his father's worst qualities, but not his brains." Oh, my what we say when we don't know the other guy is taping the conversation.

Actually, there may be some relevance to Ben Stevens here. Trying to prove to the jury that Anderson's consulting contract was just a cover to pay him to do Cornell's business may be practice for the anticipated Ben Stevens trial. (Though he hasn't even been indicted yet.)

And one more comment. It must have been even more bizarre to Tom than it was to me to watch these two men, one of whom purportedly was his trusted mentor, talking about him and setting him up to do this. Does he feel betrayed? Or does he look on Bobrick as looking out for him, helping him get much needed cash? And if the evidence eventually shows beyond a reasonable doubt that Tom is guilty, what about these other two, older, much more experienced men, who set Tom up? Why do they get to bargain with the FBI? Just because Tom is the legislator? It seems what they were doing was as bad or worse. But, not all the cards have been played, so let's hold off on a conclusion.

When I walked out, the TV truck was still there across the street.

Go to next day post.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

This Week's Blooming Flowers - Part 3


I can't remember what this one is.


Another Columbine

Mountain Ash

And a strawberry

See also week 1 and week 2 flowers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Changing One's Story of How Things Work

The Washington Post began a series on Dick Cheney Sunday. It's June 2007, almost six years after 9/11, and I'm sure that there are still people who will argue that this series is just a liberal smear of the vice president.

How many people have actually examined and tested the ways they distinguish between truth and falsehood and the various stages of uncertainty in between? How many people examine the 'stories' in their heads that they use to explain how the world works? Or even know that they have such stories?

Cognitive dissonance is when the actual world we experience is inconsistent with the world our stories lead us to expect. For a while, especially in national political situations, we can just dismiss what we are told as political maneuvering - in fact that is one of the 'stories' most of us have in our heads. We have to figure out when the story and the facts more or less match, and when use of the story is a way to distract from the real facts.

Questions about whether the dismissals were politically motivated have been swirling since January. But they reached a fever pitch on Tuesday with disclosures by the White House that Mr. Bush had spoken directly with Mr. Gonzales to pass on concerns from Republican lawmakers, among them Senator Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, about the way certain prosecutors were handling cases of voter fraud.
NY Times on US Attorney Firings

At the moment, the state's former Democratic governor, Don Siegelman, stands convicted of bribery and conspiracy charges and faces a sentence of up to 30 years in prison. Siegelman has long claimed that his prosecution was driven by politically motivated, Republican-appointed U.S. attorneys.


Did NEJM and politically motivated whistleblowers conspire to upstage the FDA on Avandia?
The May 30 Heartwire report on fallout from the Avandia controversy (to which I linked earlier today) suggests so:

But new reports go one step further--suggesting that FDA whistleblowers coordinated with politicians critical of the agency and the study authors to get damaging data into the public arena before the FDA could issue a safety statement on rosiglitazone.
Notes from Dr RW

After politically-motivated delays, FDA approves Plan B without a prescription

"This politically motivated move of the Andhra Pradesh Government, supported by the UPA Government at the Centre, is violative of Articles 14, 15, 16 and 340,'' he said.
The Hindu

Perhaps the dissonance is temporary, we can then retreat back into our old stories. But if it persists, eventually we have to question our stories and find better ones to explain what is happening.

This happened with Watergate. People had various stories that kept them from believing that Nixon was lying. A major story was tied up with the idea of the president of the US being our leader. He wouldn't lie to us. The Watergate hearings, live on tv, or the evening news' highlights, caused some to waiver. Eventually the tapes of Oval Office conversations convinced most people. But even then, I'm sure there were people who would have excused Watergate because they felt overall Nixon represented the greater good for the US and the world.

It seems today the same thing is happening. We don't have such a tangible clear cut single event like the Watergate tapes, but we do have dead soldiers (even if their coffins are hidden from the tv cameras), the tv coverage of Katrina, the daily Bagdad death count, the growing gap between rich and poor, the cost of medicine, etc.

And for those who read, the Washington Post series on Cheney appears to be one of the first in-depth reports on what has gone on behind the scenes in the White House.

Tuna for Whales?

Japan should offer to cut its still legal whale hunting in exchange for the rest of the world cutting way back on bluefin tuna consumption.

The New York Times reported today that a worldwide shortage of bluefin Tuna is causing alarm among Japan's sushi chefs. Apparently the world wide popularity of sushi, especially in the US, Russia, China, and South Korea, is driving up the price and the giant tuna get scarcer.

Recently, the Anchorage Daily News reported that Japan was denied their request to reopen commercial whaling
Japan threatened to abandon the International Whaling Commission, which in a meeting in Anchorage last week passed a resolution upholding a 21-year moratorium on commercial whaling.

The ADN also reports that Japan does have the right to kill some whales.
Japan kills about 1,000 whales annually and sells the meat under a scientific program allowed by the commission, although the annual whale hunt off Antarctica was cut short in February by a ship fire that killed one crew member. The program is nothing but a loophole that defies the moratorium and it should be better scrutinized, said Joel Reynolds with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"Thousands of whales are killed each year, ostensibly for research, but the overwhelming majority of whale scientists around the world consider it a fraud," he said. "Essentially it's commercial whaling in the guise of scientific research."

While the world - as reflected in the Whaling Commission - rejects Japan's claims that whales are not endangered and so Japan should be free to hunt whales for Japanese to eat, I'm sure that the world would be much more sympathetic to Japan's claim to tuna in sushi.

Perhaps Japan should propose to withdraw from killing the whales it still legally hunts in exchange for other countries greatly reducing their consumption of tuna in sushi. Surely, the world would understand that sushi is fundamental to Japan and while it has become quite popular elsewhere, foreigners could make do with California rolls and other non-Tuna adaptations of sushi.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Alaska Botanical Garden - Civilizing Wilderness

The Garden is a lot like Anchorage - a tiny bit of attempted civilization hidden in the middle of the wilderness. A chunk of natural forest with a few clearings with flower beds showcasing plants that can grow here.
This weekend was the 10th Annual Garden Fair & Art Show at the Anchorage Botanical Garden.

For people trying to figure out what to plant in their gardens, all the different plants with their labels are a great resource.

The Peony is for Lyrica - Des, be sure to show it to her. Lyrica and her mother took us to the Coal Hill Garden in Beijing a couple of years ago just as the peonies were blooming. That's when peonies finally got my serious attention.

We got to the garden an hour before closing on Sunday, but just in time to hear the bagpipes - a dubious pleasure.

I have mixed feelings. Every bit of 'civilizing' here reminds me that the whole North American continent was once as wild and natural as the environment around Anchorage and if we continue what we're doing, Alaska will lose its special natural splendor. On the way to the garden we stopped at that epitome of American civilization - Costco. Convenient? Yes. Natural? Beautiful? Not even close. And Costco appears to be one of the more thoughtful big box stores - good pay and benefits for the employees, etc.

Leak and Dryer

It started raining sometime late Saturday. It's almost done now. But there was a big wet spot in the living room rug this morning (Monday.) The roof guy is supposed to call back.

I did get an email back today from our Craigslist ad and someone is calling a friend to help pick up the dryer. We've figured out the new washer and how to keep it from dripping onto the floor. The new dryer works fine. (Unfortunately, we can't stick the wet carpet into the dryer.) So, it's time to get the old one out of the garage.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Moby Dick the Musical

West High School's drama department's production of Moby Dick the Musical will be performed at the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival in August according to the
Anchorage Daily News.
Last night we saw it at UAA.

We had a lot of fun watching these great high school kids sing and act and dance. But they are going to the big time so here are a few things I hope they can nail down by the time they get to Scotland.

This is a campy play. It's kitschy and makes fun of musicals in general. But spoofs are done best by people who are really good, otherwise the audience isn't sure if it's parody or a weak performance.

The biggest issue - and I'm sure they are on top of this - for me was voice volume. The singers all had good voices and the words were clear, but most of them just didn't have the power to project. Ahab and Elijah were the exceptions. Esta was pretty strong. The rest sounded like the volume knob was turned too low much of the time and we were not too many rows back. I'd consider mikes.

A number of the actors seemed like they were acting. Well, sure, they were. But the best performances happen when everyone 'is' their part. The audience no longer sees an actor, but rather sees real people living their lives on stage. Justin Birchell (Ahab and the School Head) and Aaron Eberhardt (Elijah and Coffin) were fine. Stacia Sutherland (Esta) slipped in and out, mostly in. I'm not a theater person and I don't know how to get people to move over that line from being an actor playing a part to actually being the part. I'm guessing it's all in one's head. Are they thinking about their lines or are they mentally actually the role? It makes all the difference.

Finally, I was never sure if the whale - who was on skates - really knew how to skate. Were the awkward little steps taken to turn around part of the spoof? They did get laughs. Or was the actor really wobbly on those skates? I'll assume it was part of the spoof. In that case, just to let the audience know he can really skate, when he skates across the stage at the end, he should show his real skill.

Overall, it was a fun evening. The various actors handled the music well. And it's fun music. I wish the cast lots of fun at the Festival.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Spittle Bugs and Aphid

My first blog post - July 9, 2006 - was on spittle bugs. I didn't have my digital camera then. So now that they are back, I can show you. As I said, it looks like really clean spit. Inside is a little bug that creates all this stuff to keep wet and protected. It's easy to spray off with a hose and apparently the little guys don't do much damage.

However, aphid are a different story altogether. Here the larvae (at least I think these are aphid larvae) cover the soft, green shoots of our thalactrum. Well this plant is pretty easy to deal with - I just use the jet level on my hose attachment and blast the plant. It's hardy enough that the water doesn't break it, but the aphid are gone. When they get into the birch trees it's another story. There were a few years back when the yard was covered with black syrup dripping from the birch trees. It wasn't so bad last year and so far this year seems ok.

More Anchorage Airport Railroad Depot Background

This comes from Andrew Halcro's website. Halcro was a Republican state representative from 1999-2003. On his site his biography says he is
President, Avis/Alaska (Statewide Family business owned and operated
since 1955) 2002-Present
He ran for governor of Alaska in 2006 as an Independent. He's sharp and talks straight. Below is his account of how the depot got built from a discussion of a candidate forum in Seward in March 2006. He's discussing John Binkley, then a Republican primary candidate for Governor.

Basically this is consistent with what I wrote earlier and fills in a few more details.

But the most amusing comments was his defense of the $28 million dollar cruise ship passenger depot at the Anchorage Airport. In fact, reconciling his comments to the audience on Friday with history, is a great lesson on how some politicians tend to lose memory when they run for office.

In the spring of 2001 while I was in the legislature I had my first conversation with John Binkley. He came to my office to address my concerns as a vocal critic of the railroad spending $28 million dollars of taxpayer money to construct a facility that was going to serve a limited use (cruise ship passengers) and be closed for 8 months a year.

During that conversation, Binkley who was the Railroad's Chairman of the Board and supported the rail depot, told me that the reason they went ahead with the project was that they didn't want to embarass Senator Ted Stevens by giving back the money. Even though the railroads own feasibility study raised questions about the project.

However on Friday, the rail depot turned from a "must do" to a "must have".

In his comments on Friday, Binkley defended the depot as a vision for the future. We built this so we could encourage commuter transportation and not have the roads clogged up with rental cars, eliminate the need for $56 million dollar parking garages (referring to the new Anchorage Airport car rental facility under construction) and to eliminate the need for expanding the Glenn Highway to four lanes. [Although Halcro has his rental car background on his biography on his webpage, and may assume that people know this about him, it would be nice if had made that clear for people who find this on the web and don't know. It doesn't change anything, but letting people know your connection to an issue a good habit to get into.]

Now lets stop here.

First, when the railroad board gave the rail depot the green light there was no car rental garage planned yet. Even so, would you rather have a $56 million private structure that generates millions in revenue or a $28 federally subsidized rail depot that's closed eight months a year?

Second, those rental cars clogging all the highways (unlike the tour buses from cruiseships) actually pay local and state taxes that reduce tax burdens of Alaskans. In Anchorage alone, the industry contributes almost $10 million dollars a year. Not to mention another $5 million dollars a year to the Anchorage Airport in concessionare and lease fees that help keep the airport open.

Third, I'm sure the 40,000 Alaskans a day that commute from the Mat-Su would love to know that John Binkley's vision for improved transportation in the region is based on them giving up there vehicles for a train ride.

Ironically, the railroads own economic feasibility study panned the idea of commuter rail to the airport due to a lack of railroad infrastructure, a sparse population base and the reality of infrequent trips.

But then again, anybody who would have taken the time to read the airport rail depot's feasibility study would have known that. But this was never an issue of what was best for taxpayers, this was about self interest.

In December 1998, a month after being elected to the State House I was invited to lunch with former Governor Sheffield who was head of the railroad at the time. I brought up the subject of the proposed rail depot. At the time, the railroad was still in the process of having a local firm conduct the feasibility study.

I told the governor I thought the project had a limited appeal and was a bad use of taxpayer money. However, it was very clear from his response that regardless of what the projected economics concluded, his was going to spend $28 million on the depot.

In December 2002, Sheffield and others sipped champagne as they celebrated the grand opening of the Bill Sheffield Airport Railroad Depot complete with a bronze bust of the former governor.

Today the rail depot is open on a regular basis only for cruise ship passengers from mid-May to September who pay nothing for the facility. The total yearly passengers are less than 50% of what their feasibility study projected they'd be by this date.

At least the next generation of taxpayers won't have to look down the tracks very far to see why they're inheriting an $8 trillion national debt.

All aboard.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Arti-Circle Picture Framing - Hidden Oasis in Anchorage

Catherine had told me to go to ArtiCircle Framing to frame the painting I had from Luang Prabang. (I can't believe I didn't take a picture of it so I could post it now, you'll just have to wait til it's ready.)

I finally took it in today. The hours posted in the Yellow Pages -

M-F 9:28 - 5:35 Sat 11:00 - 4:32

- were a hopeful sign. I walked out of the clutter of Arctic (Alaskans tend to drop the first 'c' ) Blvd between 36th and Tudor into another world of plants, paintings, a glass coffee table on a beautiful rug, with comfortable chairs just begging me to relax and chat a while.

Ava came out, looked at what I had. I said I'd thought a black matte, but my friend
Catherine had said, "No." "Catherine was right. We'll take care of it. We'll call when it's ready." And while I did feel comfortable, I did ask for an approximate price range, and she gave me one, but said she'd call with the exact price when they figured out how they would do it.

Then Paul Landis came out and I was introduced and we talked about the shop - "we don't have customers, we have friends;" "we're the best kept secret in Anchorage." Well, I sure never have been here before. A customer, excuse me, a friend, came in and I was introduced to the Emperor - of Alaska, California, and Baja and the rest of Mexico. Chuck Norton turned out to be a retired Anchorage school teacher who'd been born and raised in Anchorage - Spenard to be exact. And Landis had nicknamed him the Emperor when they first met because his name
was Norton

The Emperor offered me a coffee and I sat with them around the table and we chatted about a wide range of things, including health care for seniors when Larry Flynn, Paul's pharmacist, came by to drop off Paul's meds. I could go on, but I'll stop with the offer Larry has for people who switch from their old pharmacy to his - a free ride around town in one of his two Rolls Royces.

As you can tell, it is not your every day shop.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Das Leben Der Anderen - The Lives of Others

OK, so why did I like this film? (I walked out saying something like, "It's nice to see a really good film now and then.")

1. It's a serious film about serious topics - totalitarian government, freedom, abuse of power, free speech, making difficult choices, betrayal.
2. Only one is seen in a totally negative role. None in a totally positive role. All the others are complex and tempted - to do what is right (working in a bad system) or what is wrong (to continue working in a bad system), and must make impossible choices.
3. The script was smart. The actors - well I was totally drawn in and forgot I was watching a movie.
4. The filming and editing were unobtrusively good. I didn't even notice it. Nothing glitzy, nothing clumsy, to jerk me out of the story. It just captured the action without calling attention to itself. Driving home I asked, "Was it in black and white?" but then remembered the red typewriter ribbon and the blood on the final report.
5. It was in German. I studied in Germany long ago, so I could catch much of it.
6. There were small and giant acts of kindness.
7. We saw "Knocked Up" last night. The Lives of Others absolved me of Knocked up.

This is the kind of film people should see and discuss in a country that builds secret prisons, uses torture, wiretapping and other types of information gathering about citizens, that snatches 'suspects' and imprisons them without notice to their families or access to lawyers.

Alaska Airlines Great Alaska Deals

Alaska Airlines right now (June 1-August 28) is offering travel between Anchorage and many places they go in Alaska for 5000 award miles one way.

Anchorage - Fairbanks 5000
Anchorage - Juneau 5000
Anchorage - Nome 5000
Anchorage - Kotzebue 5000
Anchorage - Bethel 5000
Anchorage - King Salmon 5000
Anchorage - Dillingham 5000
Anchorage - Glacier Bay 5000
Anchorage - Gustavus 5000

I don't see Sitka or Kodiak or Cordova, but this is a great chance to see parts of Alaska that are generally too expensive to visit.

I don't normally 'advertise' but this is one of the better deals in Alaska air travel I can remember.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Blogging Thoughts - Does Traffic Matter?

The key purpose when I started this was to get an understanding of blogging. I'm far from there, but one of the issues that I have raised and still seems to be an issue for lots of bloggers is the one about who's reading the blog and getting more readers. Wherever you look there is advice for how to increase traffic. Technorati gives ratings for blogs. My Technorati authority is 1 (0 is the lowest) and my rank is 2,202,298. Such rankings certainly increase some people's interest in increasing traffic and raising their ratings. Here are a couple examples of blogs that post about how to increase rankings. The first is more like my blog - someone who is blogging and learning. The other two look more like professional blogs with lots of ads, etc.

From UPC, a personal tech blog, comes this advice:

18 Ways You Can Help My Blog [Of course you could turn that around to help your own blog]

Today, for some reason I've been imagining all of my visitors and readers as very kind and generous souls. So, in order to take advantage of this possibly true fact about all of you, I decided to compile a list of things you could do to help me and my blog. I know, you have already read thousands of posts about how to promote and help your blog, but this one is about helping my blog. As a semi-new blogger I am still spending a lot of time establishing myself, and you can help me out! As you read through this list you might be thinking, "hey, I wouldn't mind some help myself!" - if that's the case, feel free to take my list, expand upon it, customize it, and post it on your own blog. Of course, if you do use my list, I'd appreciate if you...

1. Post this list to your blog, and link back here telling everyone where you got the original list! Come back here and comment that you've used my list, and I'll come check out your entry and help your blog too. [And so I'm doing his first suggestion]

2. Give me a thumbs-up on your StumbleUpon toolbar.

3. Vote for me at

4. Add me to your links page or blogroll.

5. Click this redirect to visit my site through (it helps to boost my Alexa ranking).

6. Comment on something I've written.

7. Add me to your Technorati favorites.

8. Give me some constructive critiCism.

9. Subscribe to my feed, or subscribe by email.

10. Ask me a tech question (so I can blog it), or suggest a tech topic for me to write about.

11. Vote for me at the Blog For A Year contest.

12. Visit 25 Peeps, and click on my picture (if you don't know what I look like, check out the "About" section of this site).

13. Bookmark an entry you like at

14. Interview me for your blog.

15. Digg an entry you like.

16. Send me cash so I can buy pay-per-click advertisements.

17. Join my community on MyBlogLog.

18. Comment on this post with more ways in which people can help promote my blog.

Doshdosh offers 20 ways to increase your Alexa rating (and tells you what an Alexa rating is) Here are the first few to get an idea:
1. Install the Alexa toolbar or Firefox’s SearchStatus extension and set your blog as your homepage. This is the most basic step.
2. Put up an Alexa rank widget on your website. I did this a few days ago and receive a fair amount of clicks every day. According to some, each click counts as a visit even if the toolbar is not used by the visitor.
3. Encourage others to use the Alexa toolbar. This includes friends, fellow webmasters as well as site visitors/blog readers. Be sure to link to Alexa’s full explanation of their toolbar and tracking system so your readers know what installing the toolbar or extension entails.
4. Work in an Office or own a company? Get the Alexa toolbar or SS Firefox extension installed on all computers and set your website as the homepage for all browsers. Perhaps it will be useful to note that this may work only when dynamic or different IPs are used.
5. Get friends to review and rate your Alexa website profile. Not entirely sure of its impact on rankings but it might help in some way.
6. Write or Blog about Alexa. Webmaster and bloggers love to hear about ways to increase their Alexa rank. They’ll link to you and send you targeted traffic (i.e. visitors with the toolbar already installed). This gradually has effects on your Alexa ranking.
7. Flaunt your URL in webmaster forums. Webmasters usually have the toolbar installed. You’ll get webmasters to visit your website and offer useful feedback. It’s also a good way to give back to the community if you have useful articles to share with others.

Betabloggerfordummies gives lots of advice including this. If I understand it correctly - that he is saying to hide links in icons - I'd say this is a little deceptive.
Here is another viral idea to increase your Page Rank. Viral link building is a technique to increase backlinks to your site at an exponential rate thus increasing your blog Page Rank. This in turn will increase traffic to your blog.........

This scheme has been introduced by Ilker Yoldas from The Thinking Blog. He uses the ALT tags inside image links to increase page relevance. The keywords placed inside image links in ALT tags increase the value of the link due to the weightage given to these tags by search engine spiders.

I'm having real doubts about all this rush for traffic. Traffic doesn't matter if people don't stay and read anything. But I'm looking through these ideas to see if I can find ways to let people who might be interested find me. Of course, that's what search engines are for, and I seem to be showing up on the first page of some Google searches that get people to my site. Today for example someone got to me googling "Anchorage Airport Railroad Depot."

I guess it depends on why you're blogging. I'm just enjoying the chance to keep friends up to date on what I'm doing - especially my mother, especially when we're traveling - and it's a way to keep me doing some writing most days. So I guess a good question to other bloggers is why are you blogging and why is traffic important to you?

Monday, June 18, 2007

This Week's Blooming Flowers -2

The garden is coloring up.

The wild rose

And the Alaskan wild iris.

I don't remember what this is. Anyone know? Leave a comment if you do.

The person who gave me the cutting for this said it was Aleutian Speedwell. Since then I've seen several things called Aleutian Speedwell. Again, any clarification would be appreciated.

And the wild geranium which is blooming everywhere.

And a little less common, a white wild geranium.

Dan Fagan, Billy Muldoon, and Bogus Quotations on the Internet

After reading today's Comment by Dan Fagan, my first reaction was, "Wow, after last week's rambling condemnation of surrendering (and my having to read it carefully to post on it), this week's piece is well organized and actually has an argument, with supporting statements." Basically it's a worthy replacement of the VECO space since it tells us we shouldn't mess with the oil companies. I thought it interesting too, after telling us last week that we shouldn't surrender to bullies, this week he's telling us to roll over to the gang who told Alaskan legislators (taped by the FBI) "I own your ass." He talks about alleged (no specific names here) bureaucratic harassment of small businesses and then extrapolates that to harassing the big three oil companies. These are the guys who made more profit than our state budget last year. Given the radical difference in writing style between last week's Comment and this week's I can't help wondering if he had some help writing this one.

As I was starting to google around to check on what he wrote, the first site I found was Tribal Fires who wrote under the title " He could of looked it up!":

If, like Billy [Muldoon, the blogger], you ripped open this morning's ADN to read the latest from Dandy Dan Fagan, you may have thrilled to the righteous thunder of this passage in his opening paragraph:

In 1797, George Washington said it this way; "Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. Government is force; like fire it is a dangerous servant, and a fearful master.

?Hay problema? !Si!

As mentioned previously on the Fires, any time Dan gets within spittin' distance of a testable proposition, he's apt to get it wrong, and this is another such case. It turns out that the Father of Our Country never said no such of a thang! You can read the debunker here at an excellent reality-check site called

I went to comment on the good catch and read Anonymous' comment:

Methinks Billy is wrong. Here's a link for ya:

So, I googled "Government is not reason" and found that there are lots of people quoting George on this. No precise sources, in fact very few sources at all.

I did find this site which said it was a bogus quote:

Bogus Quotes Attributed to the Founders

SAF [The Second Amendment Foundation] mentions another fabricated George Washington quote:

Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.

SAF's analysis from the same page follows:

While this quote is often attributed to George Washington in his Farewell Address, this quote cannot be found there. Many people have tried to verify its origin, but cannot confirm its authenticity.

Dan Gifford tried to track this quote down but was unsuccessful for his article. See: "The Conceptual Foundations of Anglo-American Jurisprudence in Religion and Reason", The Tennessee Law Review: A Second Amendment Symposium Issue, Page 801, footnote 201. This issue of the Tennessee Law Review is part of the SAF bookshelf.

Perhaps the American Freedom Library available from Laissez Faire Books features the best history of this alleged quote on their Version 3.1 CD-ROM. The searchable CD-ROM notes that the above statement is:

"Attributed to George Washington.--Frank J. Wilstach, A Dictionary of Similes, 2d ed., p. 526 (1924). This can be found with minor variations in wording and in punctuation, and with 'fearful' for 'troublesome,' in George Seldes, The Great Quotations, p. 727 (1966). Unverified. In his most recent book of quotations, The Great Thoughts (1985), Seldes Says, p. 441, col. 2, footnote, this paragraph 'although credited to the 'Farewell' [address] cannot be found in it. Lawson Hamblin, who owns a facsimile, and Horace Peck, America's foremost authority on quotations, informed me this paragraph is apocryphal [fake].'"

This is from a site that is AGAINST gun control but they debunked this quote and some others touting gun use, so I give them credit for not perpetuating these bogus quotations that would help their cause. And this is pretty similar to the Bartleby citation that Tribal Fires first used to say it was a fake.

But I finally found one with a source.

"Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a
troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action."
-- George Washington, in a speech of January 7, 1790

So I looked for George Washington speeches of January 7, 1790. Couldn't find such a speech, though a number of people actually cited "George Washington, speech of January 7, 1790 in the Boston Independent Chronicle, January 14, 1790"

So everyone is blindly quoting each other when they find something they like.

But Washington did give (well I found it on several sites, two from major universities so I'm guessing it's accurate) what is now listed under the first "State of the Union" speech, then called his "First Annual Message to Congress" on January 8, 1790 (not January 7). I'm not an expert on that time of American history, but as I recall, things were still pretty shaky, and the government was far from strong. The British were going to return in 1812 to burn Washington DC. In fact he spoke in this address about the need for government. Here's a part:

Knowledge is in every Country the surest basis of public happiness. In one, in which the measures of Government recieve their impression so immediately from the sense of the Community as in our's, it is proportionably essential. To the security of a free Constitution it contributes in various ways: . . . And by teaching the people themselves to know and to value their own rights; to discern and provide against invasions of them; to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority; between burthens proceeding from a disregard to their convenience and those resulting from the inevitable exigencies of Society; to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness, cherishing the first, avoiding the last, and uniting a speedy, but temperate vigilence against encroachments, with an inviolable respect to the laws. [Emphasis mine]

So in this case I think Billy Muldoon may be a little harsh on Dan Fagan. It's pretty easy to get sucked into that quote - it's all over the place. But then my standards may have been lowered by last week's Fagan Comment. At least he didn't totally make it up. Others are also confused. But my hat's off to Billy for spotting it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Almost Solstice, Midnight Scum Finale

The Sopranos ended last Sunday after, what, five years? Well, Midnight Soapscum, ended after its ninth episode this morning. And as we walked out of Out North theater at 1am, the sky was still light. The longest day is just a few days away.

And how did it end? Spoiler Warning. There was a KQED panel discussion on porn with Svetlana Smirnoff, head of Smirnoff Studios porn empire, Maya Hansberry, UCB feminist professor, and Father Aubrey Khepera of the Catholic Church. Philippe and Luka get married. Smirnoff Studies win a Golden Palme at Cannes. Karl Lagerfeld and Bridget Bardot make appearances. And they fly to Alaska from Cannes to free Maggie the elephant with the help of the Space Aliens from the planet Barbarella. And Gov. Sarah Palin gets a new look. And Brie Savage and Narciso sing "Born Free."

Each individual act was well acted and scripted - definitely the best episode we saw. They didn't necessarily all need to be there. The acts were almost their own Saturday Night Live skits, though they did all loosely fit into an overall plot. The porn panel discussion was a great spoof on pretentious talk shows, though it was reasonably serious about the topic. But it didn't particularly move the plot along. The singing was a surprise - that it was there and that the voices were so good. Heppinstall kept up his Svetlana accent throughout and was a strong presence holding things together. The announcer, David Haynes, was also outstanding. And the space aliens had a language and jerky motions that both made some sort of perfect cosmic sense and spoofed every alien in every tv show and movie. Even the elephants were good. But 10pm to 1am with one intermission is a long show.

So life soap opera has had its first go in Anchorage, getting stronger as it went along. Like Tony Soprano, the characters of Midnight Soapscum, were becoming real people and we'll miss them. For videos from Soapscum, click here.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sierra Leone Refugee All Star Band Rolls Anchorage

The movie didn't really prepare us for how fantastic this concert would be. These guys have come a long way from their first concerts at the refugee camp in Guinea after they fled the slaughter in Freetown, Sierra Leone. But the movie had introduced us to the story of how they formed and we felt we knew most of those on stage.

The concert was incredible. From the very first note, there were people in front and some in the audience dancing. By the two encore pieces, only the deaf and lame were still in their seats, the rest of us were up and moving to the music. I'd strongly recommend checking out their schedule and going to see them when they are nearby. They have a very busy travel schedule, through the US - west coast from here - with some stops in Europe as well. It's an interesting mix of venues from the University here to the Hollywood Bowl in LA. Get their CD Living Like a Refugee

The video just captures a few snippets. Remember, this is with a little Canon digital camera, so the video and audio are just a hint at what we experienced.

After the show, members of the band came out of the auditorium and talked with audience members in the parking lot. Reuben wrote most of the songs and was the original leader of the band.

Ashade Pearce just bubbled with warmth as we talked.

Signing autographs on posters and CD covers.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sierra Leone Refugee All Star Band

This is not a hollywood movie. [added link 6/16/07] It reaches, with low production quality, into the lives of Sierra Leone refugees. We get to meet people most of us never would meet and to get to know them as people. As people who put together a band in the refugee camp and through their own energy and pluck create music that not only inspires their fellow camp residents, but also the rest of the world.

Tomorrow we see them live. [Click here for the post-concert post]

Catholic Social Services and a few other groups that work with refugees here in Anchorage sponsored the showing of this film.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Good Bye Bea Rose

I don't remember meeting Bea. And after we became aware of each other, I don't know how long it took until we had the special connection we had. At services I would seek her out or she me for a hug and catch up. Where have you been? What are you reading? What projects are you working on? And Bea always had so many interesting observations about things, or had just returned from an interesting trip. And she always wanted to know what we were up to. She'd been a teacher, active in political campaigns, and generally involved in community projects. And she looked at me when we talked with love and admiration - we were the only two people there. I guess she had special relationships with lots of people. And I think that is a wonderful gift. The ability to have many good friends, and each friendship in no way lessens the other friendships. Love isn't zero sum. And in Anchorage there are so many other interconnections. Beth, Bea's daughter was a student for a while in our program at the University. Sam's (her son) wife was our daughter's dance teacher. And we came to know and love Phil too when he came into her life. It's sad, of course, when we lose someone so warm, so involved, so nurturing. But Bea had, overall, a good life. And she leaves the world a much better place than she found it. Good bye, Bea, just knowing that you were in my life, makes my life better.

After the service, Joan and I wandered around the cemetery to say hello to other old friends. Lidia and Fred Selkregg were nearby. And then we looked for Rosanne and John Alexander. We finally had to ask where they were. It turns out John isn't here. And as I recalled, Rosanne was near her father. But I have to check on what happened to John.

You could call today Two Funerals, No Weddings, because this evening we went to services for Mark Ertischek. We weren't close friends with Mark, but we've known him and his family for a long time. His daughter went to school with our son. Good bye, Mark, you left us too soon. But you too have left a family that carries on your values.

[A note on the pictures. I only took pictures before or after the service and checked with Sam and Beth before posting them. And some will enlarge if you click on them.]

Jehovah's Witnesses were back

Micah and Jim knocked at the door about 10am this morning. They were very pleasant. They gave me a flier for a three day District Convention of Jehovah's Witnesses later this month.

Actually, I was wondering if Jim wasn't the guy who came by last February. Check his picture. I think he was. Surely he would have remembered the guy who took his picture, you'd think. He was surprised at the time.

I didn't have time today to invite them in - besides, Jonathan, Mary, and Otto had left about 9am and the painting ladder is still up - to ask them why they think this is the answer and why they are knocking on doors to invite people to their convention. I understand the idea that when you have found the 'answer' you might want to share it. And I'm really not disturbed that they come by the door and knock, though I would be embarrassed myself to disturb other people in their homes to tell them about my religious beliefs. They weren't pushy. They didn't talk to me about religion. They just said hello and invited me to come and gave me the flier. I asked if I could take their picture. That was it. Maybe we'll even drop in to see what they do.

It still interests me that so many people from so many different religions, and subgroups of the same religion, believe that they have the answer and that they must share it. There's a certain arrogance in believing that you have found the right path, when there are so many others around who are certain that they've found the right path. It would seem to me that someone would have to study all the other religions before deciding that one is the right one. I tend to be skeptical of all religious claims, though there are some valuable precepts in most religions. Unfortunately, there are people who use religion for their own personal gain, and much harm has been done in the name of religion - whether it's Protestants and Catholics fighting or Sunnis and Shiites.

Perhaps I feel this way because I was born into a religion that doesn't proselytize.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The New Christian Confederacy: How Would Americans Act if Our Country Were Iraq’d?

It seems hard for some Americans to understand why Iraqis might not be too happy with American soldiers in their country. But what would happen if we were occupied by military forces from other countries? How would we react? Would some of us side with the occupying force as a way to gain advantages? Would we start guerrilla warfare against the occupiers? Would people take advantage of the unrest to settle old feuds? Would gangs and drug lords help lead insurrections? It’s worth thinking about what things might look like if we were occupied.

Impossible you say. Aside from the fact of our great military strength, our geography also makes it extremely difficult for any other nation or group of nations to conquer us. Maybe. But what if we conquered ourselves?

Suppose that after the 2006 elections the Bush administration began to plot out their permanent control of the United States. They start making lists of generals who have been loyal and those who questioned Rumsfeld and the Bush administration. Among the many documents captured in Iraq are Saddam Hussein’s strategy for holding power in Iraq, for stifling political dissent. Imagine how interesting that would be to Robert Gates – an actual plan to quell the violence. How useful it would be to Karl Rove – an actual plan to stifle dissent. And when Saddam Hussein was executed in Baghdad with a leaked video as proof, unbeknown to all but a few, the dead man was one of Saddam’s doubles, and the real Saddam is now safely hidden in Wyoming ranch where he can give advice on how he kept the relative peace in Iraq all those years and how the Bush administration can take care of the traitors in the military, in Congress, in the media, in academia. and elsewhere.

The list of suspect military is now expanded to all sectors of the population. Torture techniques have already been approved and we already have prisons where these techniques are practiced. Handy for finding out who’s loyal and who isn’t. Some get called up on morals charges – lots more illicit IM logs come to light. An aneurysm here, a car accident there, an attempted robbery. Slowly enemies disappear. Dark skinned men with beards. Gays. Atheists. Environmentalists. Parents of the dead or injured US troops who dared to question official reports. And anyone who stands up for any of these people. Life becomes more difficult. Air travel becomes an ordeal. Telephones make strange noises. Police put down ‘riots’ at hip-hop concerts and other events where undesirables gather. The dead and wounded brought it on themselves.

Things get murky. Journalists find out there are consequences for aiding and abetting the enemy with their traitorous stories and printing and broadcasting classified material – even if it is already publicly available. A string of explosions at military bases inside the United States is the last straw. The President mourns the loss of our courageous fighting men and women and vows to find and destroy the perpetrators of this outrage. The terrorist alert color scheme has now gone past red to purple. The media, even if they have connected the dots between the enemy lists and the bases destroyed, do not even think about reporting the story. With his loyalists now firmly in charge of all the military branches, and with Blackwater mercenaries deployed to potential hotspots, Bush declares martial law. There are curfews in place. People don't come back from foraging for food. But staying home isn't safe either. All United Nations personnel from countries that have not supported the United States in at least 90% of all votes, and 100% of all votes the Bush administration deems critical, are ordered to leave the country in 24 hours. US troops then take over the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Germany, Holland, and Denmark are the first European countries to break off diplomatic relations with the US. Most Muslim countries also cut ties. The Chinese and the Russians are both nervous and smiling. They always knew that democracy couldn’t work. They understand dictators much more than they understand democrats. Across the nation there is panic. Most of the people who own guns and know how to use them are siding with the government. The liberals take to their computers and begin hacking the government systems. In some cases they find and post internal documents and plans. In other cases they are able to shut down vital systems. The power goes out in Washington DC and the surrounding areas. Troops occupy Microsoft, Google, and other critical computer centers and internet use is severely restricted.

The disruption to trade caused by the United States crisis threatens to topple the world economy. NATO, minus the US, but with help from Russia and China, and dissident US generals and troops overseas, begin to meet to determine what to do. Pakistan, having broken all ties with the US, is now working closely with North Korea to nuke Alaska.

Bush rallies his support. A new Confederacy is authorized to establish a semi-autonomous region in the South, ruled by fundamentalist Christians. The insurgents - a mix of liberals, libertarians, and true conservatives - are using what internet is left to appeal for help from NATO. Many have slipped into Canada or Mexico to start resistance movements.

Do I think this might happen? Of course not. We live in the United States of America, with the oldest constitutional democracy in the world, a constitution that guarantees such things as freedom of speech, freedom from religious prosecution, habeas corpus, due process. But I just spin this scenario so people can start to imagine what life might be like for Iraqis. So people can start to imagine the kinds of choices they would have to make if our cities' streets were ruled by violent militia and you couldn’t count on the police for safety, or the markets for food, or the corner gas station for fuel. When electricity and running water can no longer be taken for granted.

What would your options be? How would you protect your home, your family? What would you do if someone got sick or hurt, but the hospitals were occupied by drug dealers and looters?

So, when NATO - including China and Russia - troops finally landed, what would you do? Would you volunteer to join the new police? Would you join up with your ethnic, religious, or professional compatriots? Would you try to flee across the border? Would you join the insurgency? This is the life every day Iraqis would appear to be facing right now.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Jonathan, Mary, and Otto Visit

We knew our friends Mary and Jonathan would be in Anchorage sometime in June, but we didn't know exactly when. Joan had decided yesterday she needed to paint the entry way to the house. So they arrived by camper van from Juneau this today with everything out and the painting only partially done.

But no problem. They brought along Otto, their new pup. Taz, their Great Dane died at 10 1/2 recently. So after the parking lot at Moose's Tooth was packed - including a fire truck and lots of people outside - we decided to go to Thai Kitchen. You can see from the pictures that both Otto and Jonathan are always moving.